It is that time of year again when I think of you in anticipation of the remembrance of your birthday. While others like to think of those “up there” looking down on us, I don’t think that is the case. My hope is that “up there” is so amazing you wouldn’t give “down here” a look. But someday maybe I will tell you about these letters…
They do help me. They help me because as I talk to my Heavenly Father — as I often do in my head as I start to walk our production floor — I remember you. I remember your passion for the business we get to do. I remember how much you loved interacting with the people. I remember the sense of duty you had in helping the community and the industry. Remembering you gives me a renewed sense of energy.
Looking for Contentment in All the Wrong Places
As I have already shared on my blog, I fell into a big rut last fall. I became self-absorbed. I was asking for my work to fill a void that it was never intended to fill. In my pursuit, I became irritable and discontented. Honestly, I was not a good leader. But as your example reminds me, leadership is about other people. It is about supporting them, giving them opportunities, and building into them. Frankly, I think we in contemporary America spend too much time fixated on ourselves. This is what I was doing last fall, and my sense of peace was shaken.
I had two speaking opportunities last fall. One was with MAPP (Manufacturing Association for Plastic Processors), the other for the TMA (Technology and Manufacturing Association). In both cases, I put a lot of effort into creating messages that would encourage the audience. I was prepared and did my best — I think you would have been proud. Still, I left both stages feeling like a fraud.
To be clear, I didn’t feel like a fraud because of what I said. In both cases, I believed in (and, to the best of my ability, lived from) the convictions I shared. No, I felt like a fraud because of the discontentment I felt inside me. I had looked at these events to fill some void in me that they weren’t intended to fill. Instead, they exposed my vanity and desire for human approval. And no human affirmation was going to fill that void.
I then came back to Hoffer Plastics looking for contentment. But co-leading a plastics manufacturing company only creates issues, not contentment! (I smile as I write this because I know you would understand.) Then, when I was at my worst and didn’t feel like walking our production floor, I had to walk past our mission poster with your face on it. It always kicked me in the behind and reminded me to keep going.
I spent weeks in prayer about my discontentment, and it took weeks for things to change. One of the most effective prayers I pray is this: “Lord, please do not change my circumstances. Rather, help me to change for my circumstances. Because if you change my circumstances, I won’t learn what you are trying to teach me through my circumstances.”
A Wake Up Call
A few moments stand out that are worth sharing.
First, mom and dad were down in Florida at their condo, living through a category one hurricane. I am sure you would have something to say about that since you never had a condo, but stay with me. I was in one of my discontented moods grumbling about all the “have to dos” I have at the business. All of the sudden, Lizzie (she has worked on our floor for 52 years now!) asked me about my parents. “Alex, are they okay?”
Of course they are, I replied.
“OH GOOD. I was praying and praying for them with that hurricane.”
It had not dawned on me that Lizzie was asking about THAT. I thought she was just being polite.
She continued. “You know, Alex, you all are part of my family.”
Grandpa, that wrecked me. It jolted me awake from my vanity. It was God’s way of reminding me that the purpose of work is doing things with and through others, not providing me with contentment. In fact, the way to find contentment is to lose myself in the pursuit of others.
I went home that night, and with Sarah, I prayed for forgiveness for my selfishness and self-centeredness. Like Jacob, that comment awoke me from sleep, and I echoed his thoughts that, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (Genesis 28:16). Of course, I was aware. But I needed to be reminded and this did it!
My circumstances didn’t change in the weeks that followed. In fact, our business started to slow down due to the economy. I could even argue that circumstances made life a bit harder.
Yet, I rediscovered the peace that grows from Jesus’ spirit. My inner life realigned to my external life. I followed the teacher, and arguably (you would have to ask others to be sure), became someone worth following again.
I will stop here for now.
Next week, we celebrate our 70th anniversary as a company, so it is only fitting that I share the other moments then.
I love you,